In May’s column, we discussed a quote often found in gardening literature: “Plant the right plant in the right place.” Choosing and planting a plant that will thrive where it is planted (and thriving without much extra work from the gardener) is fundamental to a successful landscape. Ignoring this gardening advice can result in a struggling plant that doesn’t thrive and a frustrated gardener. Choosing and installing the right plant in the right place results in less maintenance (such as pruning), less spending on fertilizers and other chemicals, less water requirements, fewer diseases, and fewer insect problems.
Various accurate sites on the Internet provide excellent horticultural information; We often buy a plant because we fall in love with it without thinking about its future. It is important to assess a plant’s needs in relation to your landscape. Even the most attention cannot help a plant if it is not suitable for a specific location.
A plant can grow too big for its location or stay too small. Sometimes it can get in the way of pets and children and get damaged. Many things can happen to a plant that are beyond our control, such as drought, cold, insects and disease. However, the choice of the plant and the planting place is in our hands.
We repeatedly see “crepe murders” because the crape myrtle has outgrown its patch. There is a size for almost every spot. If you must have a crape myrtle, choose one that isn’t murdered annually—pruned so that the limbs are cut down to the stem.
There is no garden that does not require maintenance (a gardener’s dream), but good planning promotes a low-maintenance, beautiful landscape.
Last month’s column was about the selection process – choosing the right plant. Now it’s time to choose the right place. The first step in choosing this location is to know your garden. Unfortunately, the wrong spot can cause a plant to fail before it has a chance.
THINGS TO NOTE
• Plants grow like puppies. This 4 pound puppy may eventually grow into an 80 pound adult. A plant in a 4 ounce cup can grow into a 60 foot tree. Choose the spot to house a mature plant, not the tiny little thing that comes in the mail or from the gardening store. Plants grow both in diameter and in height. One of the biggest gardening mistakes I see is homeowners choosing the wrong base planting and ending up trying to keep the shrubs under the windows, a battle that is eventually lost.
• Take a good look at your landscape and decide how much space you need for children, pets or relaxation. These may not be the best places to start (or even have one close by) a rose garden.
• Study the landscape in pieces, not as a whole. Not every area of a landscape has the same conditions. Most landscapes have a microclimate where growing conditions can differ from the rest of the area.
• A slope may be drier and perhaps better suited to hard ground cover than tender shrubs.
• Places next to a building can usually be much warmer and even affect the climate zone, and the walls can displace a plant. Some plants that require acidic soil may resent the alkaline soil that comes with a foundation.
• Determine if some areas are more windy as plants – especially younger ones – may need shelter from strong winds. Wind can dry out the plant and soil.
• It’s important to understand if your planting site has poor drainage that will ultimately drown a plant. Some spots are better suited as rain gardens. On the other hand, some of us have small desert areas.
• Places with a lot of foot traffic may not be good planting locations. Certain thorny shrubs are not good choices for locations near people on paths, pets, or seating areas.
• Know the sun and shadow patterns in your landscape. Shade plants don’t do well in sun, and sun plants don’t do well in deep shade. Plants that need partial or full sun will not develop beautiful flowers or foliage in the shade. We could easily end up constantly watering a plant that grows in full sun and prefers shade.
• Know your USDA hardiness zone and select plants for your zone. If a plant is labeled for Zone 1 or Zone 11, it will certainly not do well in our Zone 7A/8B. A plant that prefers a warmer climate will balk at our cold nights unless the gardener is willing to isolate the plants throughout the winter (à la Martha Stewart wrapping her plants).
• Plants grow and change, making them more interesting. If a plant grows, it means it will survive. Even if we do our best, a plant still dies; We choose a new right plant and choose another right place. We may need to do this because of changing conditions in our gardens or because we are changing.
• Study your planting site. If it contains a steep slope, think carefully. Slopes are difficult to mow safely and can be tough on some plants as water can wash over them. Choose a plant that can handle a slope—a nice, non-invasive ground cover, for example. If you have a lot of extra money you can terrace your hillside with walls and build fabulous gardens. Mulch is often simply washed off a slope.
• Determine how much competition your new facility will have. Is the area already overcrowded with mature trees, roots of other plants, or even invasive plants? A newcomer will find it difficult to establish himself under these conditions. There is only a finite amount of water, light, air and nutrients.
• Determine the orientation for your planting location: North, South, West, or East. A southern exposure can be scorching hot and is best for plants that can tolerate a lot of heat. A north exposure can be colder and shadier. Everyone longs for an eastern exposure – morning light. A west exposure brings the hot afternoon sun.
• Check your lines of sight. Will the plant obscure your driveway, making it difficult to see what’s coming down the street, or perhaps preventing a driver from seeing you?
• Know where your utilities are located, underground and above ground. Have your utility company mark underground utilities before you dig. Look both up and down. We all know what can happen when a plant gets too close to a power line: a bad haircut.
• Familiarize yourself with your soil type: sandy soil, hard red clay or nice loam soil. It may be necessary to change your soil for a large planting. Bring back the native soil for a one-hole planting. Some plants can handle red clay, some can’t.
• Proper planting style is critical to a plant’s health. Plain and simple, don’t bury a plant, plant it. Plants should be installed higher than the ground.
• Know the pH of your soil (acidic or alkaline). Plants can be picky. Lilacs prefer alkaline soil and azaleas thrive in acidic soil. It is difficult to make changes to accommodate them on a large scale. Choose a plant that is happy with what you have.
• Be familiar with property lines. Adjacent neighbors may not want your plants in their gardens. Homeowners can prune their plants hanging in their yards.
• Every plant deserves a good home; Prepare your site and finish the planting work. Mulch is important for new and old plants. Mulch moderates soil temperature, helps retain moisture, prevents soil cracking, enriches soil, reduces weeds, and protects an innocent plant from the weed eater and the lawnmower. Think donut or bagel shape — not teepee or volcano — when applying mulch.
• When planting, pay attention to the characteristics of a plant. Plants with nasty thorns or poisonous parts should be given a safe home.
• Group plants with the same desires; those who need more water do well together, while those who prefer drier conditions do well together.
• Place your plants where you can reach them. Avoid placing plants with high water or maintenance needs in remote locations. Too easy to forget!
• Select accurate sources for your information when selecting information about the right place. Pages ending in .org and .edu usually have the most up-to-date research.
I can remember times in my gardening life when plants died quickly or slowly and were healthy when I planted them – 98 percent of the time it was because I put them in the wrong spot. I wanted the plant and that was pretty much all I thought about. I am now extra careful when choosing a location. I’ve spent a lot of time rearranging plants in my garden because they were becoming too difficult to water or because they didn’t do well in their original place.
No matter how perfect the plant is, it won’t be perfect for long if the location doesn’t meet its needs.
Do April showers bring Mayflowers? Check out the photos here to see which ones.
Sherry Blanton, The Southern Gardener, writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact them at email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook at Southern Gardener-Anniston Star.